Cards are replacing cash. Tablets are replacing notebooks. “Yet despite all these incredible inventions, pen and paper is still king when it comes to productivity and creativity,” says best-selling author and productivity consultant Adrian Shepherd.
According to him, while it’s true that handwriting is slower and more tedious than typing, it forces us to process information and summarize it in a way that makes sense to us. There is no spell-check, which helps improve literacy and reading comprehension. And writing leads to greater short-term retention.
So a phone or app might make you feel like you’re saving time on the spot, but going low-tech can surprisingly help you get more done in less time as far as the bigger picture goes.
“There’s something magical about going low-tech. It forces our brains to be that much more engaged in the process. In essence, when we write, we are forced to think. On top of that, there are no distractions available unlike using a laptop or iPad,” adds Shepherd.
Here are four simple pen-and-paper work tricks to boost your productivity without a single screen.
1. The Japanese Index System
Shepherd has lived in Japan for 25 years. Early in his career, he was a teacher and learned plenty of tricks from students that work just as well in a business setting. One of his all-time favorite classroom-inspired productivity tips involves using the last page of a notebook as an index to organize your notes. Here’s how it works:
“A new project comes up. You grab a notebook and start working and fill up the first three pages. You then flip the notebook to the last page and, on the first line, create a title for that project, let’s say it’s ‘New accounting system,’” he says.
“Then, go back to the pages where you wrote your notes, and on the exact same line where you wrote the title in your index, use a pen or marker to mark those pages on the right edge of the page.”
This allows you to flip through your notes faster and keep them organized so you can actually use them and save yourself follow-up conversations. Because let’s face it, you’ve probably taken notes that you never end up referring to because you don’t remember where they are or what they are about.
“This method allows you to use one notebook for multiple projects and not worry about designating enough pages for them, and you’re able to quickly flip from one section to another.”
2. Post-it hacks
From building color-coded project-management boards to earmarking important document pages and leaving notes for your coworkers, you can do so much with Post-its. But a simple yet life-changing application of Post-its is to use them instead of cell phone reminders. If you’re scatterbrained, neon papers are hard to ignore and forget again.
“The most useful thing about Post-its is being able to put them anywhere in your house. Post-its on our mirrors make for great reminders. There they are while we wash our face and brush our teeth when we wake up in the morning or before we go to bed at night. Fridges are also great places to put reminders,” says Shepherd, who also uses Post-its to write positive affirmations and quotes.
“On my mirror, I have one with my favorite Jim Rohn quote, ‘Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.’ It has been stuck on my mirror for the last 12 years now, and it’s no surprise that I’ve undergone incredible changes over that time.”
3. Elevated to-do lists
In the early 1900s, a consultant named Ivy Lee walked into the office of Charles M. Schwab, Andrew Carnegie’s right-hand man, who had only graced him with 20 minutes of his time, and asked him to list the most important things he needed to do every day to achieve his vision. Then, he asked him to complete the tasks in order of importance and cross them off as he did so on a daily basis. Schwab later thanked him and paid him $25,000 for that advice (which would be worth $800K today, according to this inflation calculator!).
This million-dollar method is still as relevant and efficient now. “To-do lists are pretty straightforward, but I’m still amazed how many people choose not to use them,” says Shepherd, who likes to add a few extra things to his own lists.
“First, my No.1 task must take up twice the size of every other item. The goal of any to-do list is not to finish everything on it, but to get through the most important things. Making my most important goal bigger than anything else on my list psychologically reminds me just how important it is.”
He also writes the names of any people he needs to involve in action items next to those tasks in red to make sure he involves relevant stakeholders quickly.
4. Presentation scripting
If you have a presentation coming up, try writing out the entire thing. Yes, you read that right. “Most people today turn to their computer to do this. It makes editing a snap. You can cut and paste, move things around, and search for expressions or phrases to make sure you don’t overuse them. It’s convenient,” says Shepherd.
“However, to master a presentation, writing is your best friend. You’ll have better recall and performance if you’ve written it out instead of merely typing it.” This will take your time upfront but will ensure you don’t need to practice over and over. And it will also make for a more engaging and impactful delivery, which can assist you in getting buy-in and moving desired outcomes forward faster.